Over 130 in quarantine as Alice struggles to cope with arrivals
TERRITORIANS returning home from South Australia were left in limbo for up to 12 hours in Alice Springs as authorities scrambled to find quarantine alternatives when facilities were stretched beyond capacity on Tuesday.
An influx of about 300 arrivals from SA into Alice Springs over the past two days has pushed quarantine facilities at the Mercure and Aurora hotels over the limit.
Due to the lack of space as of yesterday, 137 of the arrivals had been allowed to quarantine from home, 17 had been sent to an alternative hotel and 71 were flown to the Howard Springs facility in Darwin.
Only three people in Alice Springs were allowed to leave quarantine when the NT yesterday rolled back its hot spot declaration zone in South Australia to include only Adelaide and its surrounding suburbs.
It comes after travellers arriving from SA were left waiting for hours outside the Mercure hotel on Tuesday afternoon when two Adelaide flights touched down and authorities scrambled to find alternative quarantine locations to place them in.
At 8pm, about 70 people were bussed to Alice Springs Airport to board a charter flight to Darwin so they could quarantine at the Howard Springs facility, only to be told at 11pm that their flight had been grounded due to a bird strike.
Former NT Cattlemen's Association chief executive Tracey Hayes, who was among the travellers at the airport, said many people were visibly frustrated and some were in tears after hours of uncertainty.
"After the flight was scrapped the authorities asked if any of us had anywhere to go in Alice Springs, because we would now be allowed to quarantine from homes," she said.
"We were lucky enough to have friends in town with a granny flat, but I know some people who were still stuck at the airport at 4am on Wednesday morning.
"We spent about 12 hours in total waiting and being in limbo that day."
Ms Hayes said they were only required to write down their names and the address details of where they would quarantine before leaving the airport by taxi.
Health Minister Natasha Fyles said the government had "several contingency plans" for when the town's main quarantine facility had reached capacity, but some of those plans had fallen through on Tuesday.
"We had previously arranged with hotels in Alice Springs that if we reached a point where we needed rooms, they would provide them," she said.
"I'd like to thank those hotels that did at very short notice, but it was disappointing to see some hotels that had previously agreed to that not provide rooms."
Hospitality NT chief executive Alex Bruce said he was in contact with two hotels that were approached by the government on Tuesday night.
"We appreciate things move quickly in COVID times but do not support the scapegoating of accommodation providers who have borne significant economic pain during the pandemic," he said.
"What has been made clear over the past 24 hours is that surge capacity protocols that provide certainty, safety and sufficient time to protect Territorian workers, their families and the community can be improved, and we are happy to assist the government in those efforts."
Opposition leader Lia Finocchiaro said the recent "chaos and confusion" in Alice Springs had exposed the government's lack of preparation.
"There's clearly no plan, and the government is making it up as they go along," she said.
"It raises a much bigger question around what happens here in the Territory if something more catastrophic takes place."
There were 467 people at the Howard Springs facility as of yesterday afternoon.
Originally published as Over 130 in home quarantine as Alice Springs struggles to cope with SA arrivals